As national news points to signs of possible global economic distress, Coles County’s industrial and manufacturing sector remains strong. Certainly obstacles have evolved that challenge the economic development effort, but overall the local industrial sector is active, growing, and hiring.
Most industrial facilities in the county are brimming with production, and managers are recruiting employees at a rapid pace. Inside several facilities, expansions and additions are underway and it is fantastic to have people working, making products, and distributing goods across the nation. Coles County firms feed the world, power and connect our businesses, help build our automobiles, make products that keep people safe, build our infrastructure, and produce the machines that allow other manufacturers to innovate and create.
In addition to strength in the local industrial sector, the number of new leads has increased significantly from what it was the last several years, indicating firms do not appear to be concerned enough to take expansion opportunities off the table.
It is important to recognize, however, that the community is not immune to the challenges posed by rising levels of economic uncertainty. Of the two large industrial facilities that remain empty — the General Electric facility in Mattoon and the Trailmobile facility in Charleston — uncertainty about tariffs may have dampened interest in the latter, which had reached a critical negotiating stage.
Coles Together had successfully courted interest in the facility from a large international recycling operation. The opportunity would have been terrific for the community as it would have put people to work, utilized a facility without many options, and even increased rail traffic and revenue for the short line that serves the facility. But the interest appears to have stalled and one might assume it’s related to the ongoing trade dispute, particularly concerning recycled materials.
In the meantime, Coles Together continues to work with the industrial companies that have already chosen to call Coles County home. Alton Trucking and Warehousing in Mattoon is undertaking an expansion because it is bursting at the seams. JM Test Systems in Mattoon has acquired additional space, is growing, adding services, and hiring. Lester Buildings in Charleston is growing and gaining market share. In fact, most industrial firms in the county are strong, adding production, adding employees, and, in so doing, shoring up the local economic base. Unfortunately most exist in very competitive markets and are unable to issue a press release each time they add production or embark on an expansion.
But the numbers tell the story even if they cannot. Recent employment and census statistics show the industrial sector supports 24% of the jobs in Coles County. The only sector employing more individuals is the healthcare sector at 25%. With the award of the new Coles County Enterprise Zone, detailed in another column within this issue of Leading the Way, the industrial sector will continue to be an integral part of the Coles County economy and Coles Together looks forward to sharing many more local growth and success stories in the near future.
Griffin is president, Coles Together
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